The short bit…
To introduce myself; my name is Lucy Irons and I am currently over half way through an EngD, with STREAM, which is the industrial doctorate centre for the water sector. My topic area is “Future Water Networks” and I am, more specifically, exploring the idea of high density data from the water distribution network. This looks at what data we have and could have, and how this can be transformed into actionable information (that the water company can actually use!)
The long story…
(You don’t have to read this; it’s a mini autobiography…)
Many, many years ago I had a dream that I should be a film director and with the push of UCAS applications, I ended up gaining a place to read Media Arts at Royal Holloway. Although by this time I was ready for an adventure and so I decided to take a gap year and go and do something “useful”. Off I went to India, to live and work in the Indian equivalent of Silicon Valley, Bangalore. During the three months I spent there, I worked in a charity school teaching maths to children from extremely poor families and orphanages. This brought about a bit of a change in perspective and so I changed my subject to Physics (just a small change in direction). Physics was a great subject to explore, with so many branches into different areas, but it also left me at a bit of a loss as to where to take it. I certainly didn’t want to be a teacher, or go into finance (like so many of my classmates). Again I took a gap year, and headed off around the world to experience as much as I could (and hopefully have an epiphany). Two things stood out whilst backpacking, toilets and power, although I still needed to more time to consider how these might help form my future.
After a year of working for an online retailer doing a variety of jobs from packing boxes, to providing technical advice and maintaining website content, I decided to go back to University. The question was whether I should go into renewable energy or water? Water won, and I found a place on a brand new Water Engineering MSc at Brunel. The syllabus covered a host of topics within the wider world of water. I found myself writing essays on topics ranging from intermittent water supply to getting power from water turbines, and designing wastewater stabilisation ponds. I finished the year with a project centred on the use of geotextiles as biofilm filters for storm water treatment. This lab based experiment investigated the performance of different numbers of geotextile layers, assessing the quality of water before and after passing through the filtration system.
During this time I applied for two Stream projects, as I wasn’t sure that I was ready to go straight into Industry. I was particularly keen to get a water distribution project, as I felt it would best capitalise on my physics degree, and I accepted as soon as the University of Sheffield offered it. With only a few days between handing in my final MSc thesis and starting my EngD, there was no time for another gap year (life is so unfair!). The first three months of the EngD programme involved a crash course in a number of water related topics at Cranfield University, some of which repeated what I had studied in my masters and some new. Most importantly it was the chance to form bonds with my fellow Stream research engineers (that’s what we get to call ourselves on the Stream programme), who would form a support network through the doctorate and beyond.
For last few years I have been based in my sponsor company, Anglian Water, sitting with the Innovation team. This is where I have been allowed the time to understand what a water company does and to engage with key people who are shaping the future of the water industry. Whilst based in the company my project has narrowed down from a general “what should our water distribution networks look like in the future?” to something much more refined and in-line with industry needs. At the same time I get amazing support from being based within the Pennine Water Group at the University of Sheffield, so it really is the best of both worlds!